Working to Rid Institutional Structural Racism in the Rochester City School District


Take Down It Down Planning Committee and Faith Community Alliance have been focusing for more than five years on working to impact individual and institutional structural racism in the Rochester City School District (RCSD).

Former RCSD Educator Howard Eagle, a member of both community organizations said, the groups also do volunteer work outside of the district but working with the RCSD has been a large part of their focus since 2017.

Members of the groups have recently completed a project under the moniker Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership Team (R.E.A.L) in collaboration with educators that work in the district and other community members.

Former Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams was responsible for putting the team together.

“The charge of that team was to put together a racial equity plan,” Eagle said. “It was constructed over a two-year period and completed in November of 2019. Former Superintendent Terry Dade was supposed to present it to the school board, but it never was presented before he left in July of 2020.

Dade's resignation and departure came within less than ninety days as the district’s superintendent.

“School Board President Van White told us, when newly appointed Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers-Small come on board; it would be one of the first things he would ask her to take up, Eagle recalled. “We met Dr. Small on June 8 by means of Zoom, where she informed us that she had the plan and needed time to study it along with her new administrators and wanted to meet again with us in August.”

In the plan, one of the goals is that everybody in the school district needs to have anti-racist education on an ongoing basis.

“The curriculum is also one of the issues the plan deals with,” Eagle continued. “What we really need with the curriculum is a complete overhaul. It is focused completely on a Eurocentric consciousness of European accomplishments and achievements and everyone else’s get played down, distorted, or omitted. But at the end of the day it is a state issue, because if you change the curriculum at the state level the teachers have to teach what the state sends down. We gave two years of free labor on the R.E.A.L. project and our kids deserve to have it pass on to the board and approved. However, we knew from the beginning, we needed to have an oversight process because some of us have done this before. We have done work with the district, then you turn it over to them and it is either botch, or they do not do it or claim it did not work. So, what we said is that this team will not go away after its development but instead, we will have a role with the superintendent to evaluate this process annually to make sure it is working. And be able to keep the community informed to stand with us against any resistance because we almost know there is going to be some; especially when you are dealing with racism,” he implied.

“To tell the truth, many white suburbanites’ teachers do not want to deal with it and the union is going to try to present the case that they do not have to because it is not part of their contract. But we feel confident that people in the community will look at it and say this is a good plan and yes, I would back it,” he said. “It is a shame but that is, what it is coming down to. People will agree, until you require something of them like when they understand that they got to go to a class and learn about their own racism,” Eagle strongly conveyed. “This is not a simple kind of process where we want to point fingers at people and say you are racist. We are not about that. What we want people to understand is that the institution you are working in is a racist institution and it is going to continue to be a racist institution unless you change policies, practices, procedures rules, regulations and laws that keep it the way it is.”

For an example Eagle pointed out there have been massive layoffs and before the layoffs, the teaching staff was more than eighty percent Caucasian. Now that those layoffs have taken place a lot of the black teachers that were hired in recent years were the ones laid off or fired because they were the last in, they are the first out.

“The strict seniority laws are a problem,” Eagle insisted. “Those are state laws, but they are problems. Teacher Union President Adam Urbanski admitted on WXXI’s The Evan Dawson Show that it is a racist policy. But the position he takes is that we cannot do anything about it.,” Eagle recalled. “I told him it is something he can do, because it once was a state law that said, I had to sit in the back of the bus, and you could sit in the front. We change that! Why can't we change this one? All the research points to having a greater percentage of teachers in the classroom, who reflects its student body is highly beneficial for those children learning development and educational experience,” he pointed out.

“And people will give lip service saying yes for them to have teachers that look like them. But you are saying that knowing it cannot happen because you know that they are laws that do not permit it. That is an example of institutional structural racism. When you tell them this, they take it personal because they were not taught this in college. But that is not what we are talking about. The majority were raised in an all-white environment and had no exposure to black people and no other people of color or poor people until they came to work in the school district,” he suggested.

"That is your socialization process. Whatever you have been socialized to be, that is who you are, but that can be changed by making a true commitment to keeping an open mind where you can come to that point to see, the community is here to work with anyone who wants the best educational experience for our children, where they are no longer being poorly educated to the point one can only suggest our children are being seen as meal tickets, nothing else. The district, state, educators and their unions must accept the stark realization that in order for our children to succeed in this district going forward transformation changes must be made not only to the curriculum but also to policies, practices, procedures, rules, regulations and laws that keep it the way it is,” Eagle said.

Article by: Author and Journalist Rodney Brown, executive director of Brown Publishing LLC and Southwest Tribune Newspaper
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